The Aviators arrived at Las Vegas Ballpark on Monday in the midst of a rare mini offensive slump, having been limited to a total of three runs in their previous two games against the San Antonio Missions.
That slump certainly didn't figure to end in the series finale, considering Las Vegas was facing the Pacific Coast League's best pitcher in San Antonio right-hander Aaron Wilkerson, who carried a 5-0 record and a microscopic 0.40 ERA to the mound. Just how dominant was Wilkerson in his first eight starts with the Missions? He allowed a total of two earned runs and 21 hits in 44 2/3 innings.
So of course the Aviators' hitters came out Monday and absolutely … destroyed Wilkerson, tagging him for six runs in an eight-run first inning on their way to a 17-7 thrashing of San Antonio before a crowd of 8,481. Leadoff hitter Nick Martini singled, doubled and homered in his first three at-bats, and Franklin Barreto, Skye Bolt and Dustin Fowler also went deep - all in the first three innings - as the Aviators (35-30) split their four-game series with the Missions (40-25) and capped a seven-game homestand in blowout fashion.
Just how thorough of a beatdown was it? By the end of the third inning, Las Vegas held a 13-1 lead, and eight of the nine batters in the lineup had at least one hit and scored at least one run. When the carnage was over, every Aviator had at least one hit (the team had 19 in all), one run and one RBI; six different players hit home runs; six had multiple hits; five scored multiple runs (including three with three apiece); and four had multiple RBI.
Martini (3-for-5, three runs, four RBI), Bolt (3-for-4, three runs, three RBI) and Jorge Mateo (4-for-5, three runs, RBI) led the way for Las Vegas, which put at least one runner on base in every inning and scored at least once in all but the fourth and seventh innings.
Right-hander Daniel Mengden (4-2) took full advantage of the offensive explosion, pitching free and easy in his first start with Las Vegas since May 7. Mengden, who was optioned from the parent Oakland A's late last week, allowed just two runs on five hits over six efficient innings in which he threw just 74 pitches (55 strikes), didn't walk a batter and struck out two.
Mengden not only lowered his Aviators' ERA to 2.80, he easily won what was expected to be a rare PCL pitchers' duel against Wilkerson (5-1). Except the Aviators' hitters made sure this duel would be decidedly one-sided - and they did so in a hurry.
After Mengden started the game by retiring the Missions in order on nine pitches (all strikes), Martini led off the bottom of the first with a sharp single to right field. Three pitches later, Barreto lined a rocket two-run homer down the left-field line - meaning it took just two batters and eight pitches to double Wilkerson's earned-run total for the season.
On the very next pitch, Mateo smoked a single to left, but when Seth Brown and Fowler flied out on consecutive at-bats, it appeared like Wilkerson had gotten his bearings. Then Sheldon Neuse worked a seven-pitch walk, and Bolt followed with a three-run homer, his first big fly since April 28.
One pitch later, Mark Payton lined a single to right, and that was all for Wilkerson, who was lifted for reliever Jon Olczak. But while Wilkerson was done, the Aviators were not, as Martini smacked Olczak's 3-2 pitch for a two-run homer (his first of the season) to boost the lead to 8-0.
And just like that, the onslaught was on, as Las Vegas tacked on one run in the second, four in the third, two in the fifth and one each in the sixth and eighth. How brutal a night was it for the Missions, who own the best team ERA in the entire PCL? They surrendered a season-high 17 runs, and all but one of their six pitchers who took the mound gave up at least one, led by Wilkerson who was charged with six runs in just two-thirds of an inning.
The pitching implosion by San Antonio, and Wilkerson in particular, was something nobody saw coming - but something the Aviators very much needed. And enjoyed.
GAME NOTES: In addition to Martini, Barreto, Fowler and Bolt, Las Vegas got home runs from Seth Brown (his team-leading 16th, a two-run shot in the fifth) and Neuse (solo blast in the eighth). The six homers represent a season high for the team. … Barreto now has hit six homers in his last eight games after hitting just three in his previous 50 contests. … One day after his 15-game hitting streak was snapped, Mateo racked up four singles, coming all the way around to score the Aviators' 13th run when his second hit skipped past San Antonio center fielder Corey Spangenberg and rolled all the way to the wall. … Besides Martini, Mateo and Bolt, Brown (2-for-5, HR, triple), Payton (2-for-5, 2 runs, RB1) and Jonah Heim (2-for-5, run, RBI) also had multi-hit games for the Aviators. In his first two games since being promoted from Double-A Midland, Heim, a catcher, is 3-for-8. … Las Vegas right-hander Norge Ruiz followed Mengden and picked up a three-inning save. After allowing just one hit (a solo homer) in his first two innings, Ruiz was tagged for four runs on five hits in the ninth.
ROSTER SHUFFLE: The A's optioned right-handed reliever Ryan Dull back to Las Vegas on Monday to make room on the roster for Tanner Anderson, who was promoted from the Aviators in time to start Monday's game in Tampa Bay. In his first career big-league start, Anderson - who departed Las Vegas with a 4-4 record and a 4.55 ERA in 11 starts - was charged with a 6-2 loss, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.
In his second stint in Oakland this season, Dull appeared in just one game, giving up five runs (four earned) in Saturday's 10-5 loss to the Rangers in Texas. In 16 relief appearances with the Aviators, Dull is 1-1 with a 4.98 ERA and 32 strikeouts against just four walks 21 2/3 innings.
ON DECK: The Aviators will enjoy a day off Tuesday before embarking on a seven-game road trip to Tennessee, where they will face the Nashville Sounds (June 12-14) and Memphis Redbirds (June 15-18). They return to Las Vegas Ballpark on June 20 to begin a brief five-game homestand, all against the Sacramento River Cats.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.